Change Maker - The charity 'all about raising scientific literacy' in young Kiwis

  • 22/10/2021
  • Sponsored by - Dell

After more than a decade working as a high school science teacher, Chris Duggan was so concerned about the lack of science knowledge students had when arriving at high school she decided to do something about it. 

Determined to improve scientific literacy for young Kiwis, in 2013 Duggan established House of Science, a charitable trust that provides primary and intermediate schools with a library of shared resources with the aim of empowering teachers to deliver high-quality science lessons.

Duggan is this month's Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.

Duggan says she was moved to establish the charity after realising many students were receiving practically no science education at primary or intermediate school.

"I spent about 15 years in the classroom and throughout that time I had a growing concern for the lack of science kids had coming into high school," she says. 

"I was really worried about that, I thought surely in eight years of schooling there should be some science in there, it is a core part of the curriculum."

In 2013, after reading a report published by the Education Review Office that showed more than 70 percent of our primary schools failed to have an effective science programme in place, Duggan was moved to action.

Kids doing a science experiment.
The charity provides schools with resource kits containing a number of hands-on experiments. Photo credit: Facebook - House of Science

"I decided then and there that something needed to be done and that I could be that someone to do something. And I quit my job and set up this charity not knowing anything about running a business or a charity or setting up a website or accounting - I'm a science teacher - so I had to learn it all on the fly."

Although Duggan originally envisaged the charity operating only in Western Bay of Plenty, it has since expanded into branches covering nearly all of the North Island and services almost 500 schools.

The charity provides schools with resource kits containing a number of hands-on experiments. The kits, which are delivered and collected weekly, include all equipment, consumables and instructions - in both English and Māori - needed for teachers to give high-quality lessons in a fun and engaging way.

The charity is funded through sponsorship, grants and donations, with schools footing the bill for less than 20 percent of the total cost of the service.

The kits cover around 40 topics, including everything from climate change to microbiology to heat energy, with titles such as 'Mighty Microbes', 'From Moo to You' and 'Hot Stuff'.

House of Science kits for schools to use.
House of Science kits cover around 40 topics, including everything from climate change to microbiology to heat energy. Photo credit: Facebook - House of Science

"The fact that teachers have access to really good-quality kits, resources and equipment means that they can really teach current science," says Duggan.

And the kits are not just popular with teachers, the hands-on nature of the resources also means they capture the attention of children in a way other learning tools don't.

"There's great stuff online, but when it comes to five- to 12-year-olds learning science it's got to be hands-on - you can't put them in front of a screen or get them to read a book.

"They are so curious and inquisitive and if you want to foster that inquiry [and] learning and give them the ability to go in different directions you've got to give them the actual stuff and to allow them to explore, and that's exactly what we're able to do."

Duggan says the ultimate aim of House of Science is to give young people a solid scientific foundation.

Resource Designer & Operations Manager, Jane Hoggard.
Resource Designer & Operations Manager, Jane Hoggard. Photo credit: Facebook - House of Science

"We're all about raising scientific literacy," says Duggan.

"Kids are born curious and it's that curiosity that we tap into as scientists because we're always questioning why - we're looking at the world going why is that like that, why is the grass green, why is the sky blue?

"And we come up with experiments to try and investigate and give us answers to those questions."

Although the charity has grown since it was first established, Duggan says there is still a long way to go. Currently, there are chapters across most of the North Island, as well as in Christchurch, but Duggan hopes that in the future they can reach more schools in the South Island, giving kids right across the country access to high-quality science education.

"I think the model that we've got seems to really work, students and teachers love it," she says.

"The only barrier we've got is the funding, so hopefully in the future we can find a way forward that allows a more sustainable funding platform for us and get this into every school in the country."

This article was created for Dell.